Natural capital is the environmental resources (e.g. plants, animals, air, water, soils) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people. Scotland’s natural assets are the basis of our quality of life and underpin our economy, and it is crucial that they are protected and enhanced in order to benefit us now and for future generations. Investing in Scotland’s natural capital is seen as fundamental to maintaining a healthy and resilient economy.
Many of Scotland's growth sectors, such as tourism, food and drink, depend on high quality air, land and water. There are many other less tangible ways in which nature sustains us, contributing to our health, wellbeing, enjoyment, sense of place and who we are as a nation.
Anything which affects the quality or quantity of our terrestrial habitats will have an influence.
Farm management practices have an important impact on natural capital. One of the priorities of the Scottish Rural Development Programme is to encourage action to protect and improve the natural environment, while also ensuring that we have a viable agricultural industry. The impact of climate change on our natural capital is difficult to predict. Similarly the interaction between climate impacts may be uncertain leading for example to extreme weather conditions.
There are trade-offs associated with different management choices. For instance, the choice to harvest trees on a particular piece of land might have a positive impact on provisioning ecosystem services (timber), but a negative impact on regulation & maintenance (e.g. flood risk mitigation) and cultural (e.g. opportunities for recreation) ecosystem services. In this example, the overall impact on the indicator might be neutral, and this illustrates why it is important to investigate overall changes in the index. A wide range of factors influence the Natural Capital Asset Index, both positively and negatively, and we must dissect the headline trend to understand patterns for particular ecosystem services and/or habitats.
We recognise the complexity of natural systems. Any trends picked up by this indicator will be assessed alongside other environmental indicators to help us form a coherent picture of environmental performance in Scotland.
We recognise that Scotland’s rich and diverse natural environment is a national asset which contributes hugely to our economy and to our wider sense of wellbeing.
When Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) launched the NCAI in 2011, Scotland became the first country in the world to publish such a detailed attempt to monitor annual changes in its natural capital. SNH will continue to work closely with key stakeholders over time to undertake development work on both the NCAI and other potential future measures.
Scotland has a strategy to protect and improve its natural capital. For example:
The 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity strategy document includes the outcome that we increase our stock of natural capital for the next generation.
The Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020 identifies ‘investment in natural capital’ as one of the six Big Steps to help us deliver the 2020 Challenge. It cites the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code as examples of on-going investment in natural capital. It also mentions investment in green infrastructure
Scotland’s Economic Strategy puts natural capital at the heart of economic prosperity, again specifically in relation to investment
The Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) was 101.5 in 2016 and generally appears to have remained relatively stable since 2000. The NCAI in 2016 is 0.6 percentage points higher than 2015, 0.1 percentage points higher than the base year 2006 and is the highest since detailed monitoring began in 2000.
It is recognised that at this point in time, the NCAI still requires further development and refinement to produce a fully satisfactory measure. Despite this it is seen as a valuable addition to the indicator set. We will continue to work closely with key stakeholders over time to develop the NCAI and other potential future measures.
The data is available at the bottom of the page.
The NCAI measures the quality and quantity of habitats in Scotland, according to their potential to deliver different ecosystem services now and into the future. Ecosystem services can be categorised as follows:
For example: grass for livestock; dairy products; timber; soft fruits such as raspberries; wild salmon and venison; freshwater for drinking and whisky production.
Regulation and maintenance services
For example: climate regulation via carbon storage in peatlands; natural flood protection from bogs and woodland; pollination of crops; habitats for wildlife.
For example: watching wildlife; recreational fishing; symbolic species and landscapes; information for education.
An index is calculated for each of the three categories of ecosystem services. These indices are then combined to give the overall index, applying a weighting according to their relative importance. Regulation and Maintenance services has a weighting of 0.5 applied and Provisioning and Cultural services each have a weighting of 0.25 applied.
The Ecosystem Health Indicators (EHI) for Scotland are also being developed in partnership with SNH to assess progress towards achieving the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity outcome "increasing our stock of natural capital for the next generation". The EHI operate across multiple scales – from national down to more local levels, such as the sub-basin areas used for river basin management planning. In the future, when both the EHI and NCAI are further developed, it may be possible to link the NCAI to the EHI to give a more in depth analysis.
This evaluation is based on comparing the most recent index value to the index value from three years previous. Any difference within 2 percentage points suggests that the position is more likely to be maintaining than showing any change. An increase of 2 percentage points or more suggests the position is improving; whereas a decrease of 2 percentage points or more suggests the position is worsening.
For information on general methodological approach, please click here.
Scotland Performs Technical Note
Forestry Commission Scotland
Scottish Environment LINK
Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
The James Hutton Institute
Wealthier & Fairer
Safer & Stronger